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Outside of Nevada and New Jersey, most legal gambling in the US is run by Indian tribes, on the reservations or, if it's off tribal lands, by special license. How do Indian casinos measure up against Vegas and its ilk?
When you talk about gambling in the US, the first place to come to mind is Las Vegas, Nevada, usually followed by nearby Reno, or by Atlantic City, New Jersey. These are all first-class gambling destinations, and Vegas and Reno combine the games with great all-around vacation attractions, but they are not the only game in town anymore. The Indian casinos have been expanding, and have a lot to offer.
Hollywood, Florida is known for sunny beaches, pleasant weather, and spring break, but it's also home to the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. Run by the Florida Seminole tribe, the casino got its start in 1979, as a bingo house and the very first Indian gambling operation in the US. After surviving court challenges that set the rules and regulations for Indian casinos in the States, the Seminole operation succeeded, and expanded.
Today, the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino has expanded into a 500 room hotel and 130,000 sq. ft. casino on an 86 acre resort. In addition to the 2000 slots and 70 table games, the casino offers easy access to the beaches of South Florida, and a variety of concerts.
The success of the Seminole Tribe in starting and expanding a casino was noticed, and soon emulated, by numerous other tribal authorities, both on and off the Indian reservations. They saw that legal gambling offered a source of steady income and jobs to their people, and were quick to capitalize on the opportunity.
The Seneca Nation, of New York State, opened the Seneca Niagara Casino in 2002, as a world-class casino in one of North America's most famous tourist spots. Niagara Falls, the giant natural waterfall on the river connecting Lakes Erie and Ontario, has always attracted tourists; the cataract is a spectacular example of the force of nature. The Seneca Niagara Casino is an equally spectacular example of a legal gambling experience.
The 110,000 sq. ft. casino houses 3200 slot machines and 95 table games, as well as three restaurants and the largest luxury hotel in western New York State. The hotel includes 486 rooms and 108 luxury suites. The establishment of the Seneca Niagara Casino has helped to rejuvenate Niagara Falls as a tourist and vacation destination.
Off the beaten path
Not all Indian casinos have been built in "known" locations, however. Some tribes, due to their agreements with the states, could not build off the Indian reservations, and others simply wanted to keep their casino businesses under their eyes. The upshot is that you can find some real gems of legal gambling if you look off the beaten path.
The town of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, set on the Upper Peninsula between Lakes Superior and Huron, definitely fits that bill. Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians opened the Kewadin Casino there, and helped turn a modest tourist spot into a real attraction.
Kewadin is smaller than many other casinos, with 700 slots, 19 table games, and 400 bingo seats in a 37,000 sq. ft. facility. The attached hotel has some 300 rooms, and there are several restaurants, both in the casino and in the nearby towns of Sault Ste. Marie, Saint Ignace, and Mackinaw City. Other attractions near the casino include Whitefish Point, Mackinaw Island, the Mackinaw Bridge (the famous "Mighty Mac," connecting Michigan's two peninsulas), and hundreds of square miles of pristine wilderness areas. In short, Kewadin was conceived as the centerpiece attraction to a larger local tourist area, and deserves to be better known outside of Michigan.
There are over 200 Indian casinos in 28 states, and the various tribes are planning to build more, and even to expand their operations to the Internet. Savvy gamblers are sure to find a good spot for their next casino vacation.